Psychological perceptions


Article summary

Perceptual set is expectation of a person to perceive one thing and not another. This condition is usually a mental predisposition basing on ones experience. Psychologists have done many experiments and studies on this and have varied results. This paper will examine an article on perceptual set, summarise it, its critique and critique of the website.

The article “Context and Expectations; Categorization and Selectivity” by Daniel Chandler based on observation on what people perceive depending on their experience. He appreciates the fact that different types of contexts are vital in shaping interpretation of what we observe. In his article, Daniel lists several uses of context in perception he acknowledges that some theorists like Marshall McLuhan (1962), Walter Ong (1967) and Donald Lowe (1982), argued that there is a shift of human senses over a period of time. These theorists argued that we, human beings tend to give priority to some things and not others basing on our perception. In this article, it is noted that people from different locations use different senses depending on their area. Two examples provided are that; western urban cultures rely more on sight more than any other organ and Ongee people of Andaman Island live in a world ordered by smell.

In this article, it is acknowledged that different populations have different perceptions on different things. It is noted in the article that native American Indians perceive the world different from other populations. Indians and Non-Indian populations are noted to depict the same events differently, not because of an error but because these people view the world differently. This is proved by the example provided in the article. This example is about artistic impressions from the sixteenth century when Europeans anchored on the Indian Territory. The drawing from Europeans showed a sailing vessel anchored offshore with well dressed gentlemen going ashore. On the other hand, Indian drawing showed a floating island with tall defoliated trees and hairy people coming ashore.

According to these two artistic impressions, it is evident that the American Indians had different experience. Europeans thought that the Indians saw something that was not there. They argued that Indians did not know what was happening to them. On the other hand, the Indians look at the same picture and argue totally different. They say that the sailing vessel is like a floating island after all and the masts in the vessel were made of trunks of tall trees. It is not that there are errors on these images but because the experience these two people got were totally different.

Apart from perceptual contexts stated above, there are others that are noted by Daniel in this article. Situational context is underlined in the article and this kind of context sets up expectations in the observer. Daniel acknowledges an experiment that was done by Bruner and Postman in 1949. The two used playing card to determine situational context. The cards were changed from black to red and vice versa. These cards were exposed to the test subjects for a short time. Some viewed anomalous cards; others were able to detect the compatibility of the two colours while other viewed the cards as brown or purple. There was no mistake in exposing the cards and these different views were based on what these people thought they ought to be observing.

Structural context is another context that is widely used to look at perceptual sets of people. In an experiment that was carried out in Brewer and Treyens in 1981, Daniel notes that people at times give views of what they think about a particular thing. In this particular experiment, people were told to wait in a waiting room by Brewer. He then came back after a short while and took some of the participants into another room. He asked them to recall whatever they saw in the waiting room. Most of these participants had the tendency of recalling objects found in a typical office. In fact, very few participants recalled all things that were in the waiting room. This showed great sense of perceptual set as some of the participants gave views of what they think should be an office.

Daniel notes of selection context in which people tend to point out details that caught their attention. This tendency is experienced by almost all people, whenever they visualize something; they are likely to remember only what caught their attention. Familiar items, labels and items that are prominent because of their quantity and relative size are likely to be remembered with ease. In selective context, people tend to assimilate things, combining two or more things into one. Daniel concludes that selective perception is based on what seems to be prominent or standing out and is related to our interests, current demand, interests, past experiences and what we expect of the situation in question. He appreciates that some contexts are shared among cultures and others across human species.

Article Critique

This article has explained in simple language the major differences between the different types of contexts that are involved with perceptual set. Though it based on other author's work, it well organized and the work of these authors is acknowledged properly through citation. The article is properly supported by experiments though done by other authors. This shows that in this case, the information provided is not theoretical but practical. The importance of this is that at times there are variations between theoretical and practical aspects of the subject in question. Therefore, this article is purely based on experiments and not author's viewpoint.

However, there more information on these experiments should have been made available. By so doing, we would be able to understand even better the concept of perceptual set. Another point of concern is that most of these experiments were done many years ago before the time of writing this article. The Author should have looked for more recent sources to be able to understand the psychological aspects of perceptual set in the years just before the article was written.

Website Critique

The website has provided sufficient information on this particular subject. It is owned by an academic institution which shows that there is enough information about the subject in question. The article is accurate and well organized. This is based on the fact that all sources that were used are indicated and properly cited. This website is user friendly as it does not require any special software, passwords or any additional requirement for on to use it. There are not advertisements in the web page. This makes it easy for one to read through as there are no distractions from advertisements.

The author Dr Daniel Chandler visual semiotician based in the Department of Theatre, Film & Television Studies of Aberystwyth University. He usually teaches mass and communication studies and therefore maybe not experienced in the field of psychology which is mostly involved with perceptual set. He fails to provide his contact details like email and telephone number which means we cannot be able to ask him questions if we have any. Also, this webpage is not linked to other sources which can help one to obtain more information on this particular subject.


Daniel Chandler. Context and Expectations; Categorization and Selectivity. 1997. 17 March 2010.

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